I love to be around women of a certain age, the same age as I am, and older, who prove the old adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, who have the perspective that only comes with having a past and knowing that the future is fast approaching, and so there is no time like the present to start living your dreams.
I love to be around women who have cared for everyone but themselves, have survived terrible losses and disappointments and a lack of self-confidence, and are finally finding their voices, while never losing their sense of humor or generous spirit.
I get to be around these women every time I facilitate an expressive arts workshop. (Men and younger women are most welcome, but rarely attend for some reason.) Every time I invite these women to unleash and explore their creativity, in art and writing, to take a risk and share their innermost thoughts with total strangers, I am privileged to witness the unencumbered flow of words, of colors, of laughter and tears, as they allow themselves this time to shut off the old voices of teachers who told them they weren’t artist or writer material, parents who told them to do something more practical, a culture that told them the arts were a frivolity, child’s play, get serious.
We have so much undoing to do to get back to that childlike wonder, that spontaneous joyful creative expression—so much unlearning regarding the definitions of “real” poetry, art, and music. So many rules to begin breaking and keep breaking.
There is nothing like the look of surprise followed by pure happiness on someone’s face who has never, or rarely, attempted to write a poem or a story, after she’s read aloud in a group setting something she wrote that simply sings.
For more than a decade, Patricia Ann Chaffee of Old Saybrook, my friend and fellow expressive artist and Creating a Writing Life facilitator, has been offering programs that celebrate the human spirit through creative expression. Like me, she learns as much from the people that attend her workshops and retreats as they learn from her.
“I am always amazed that the women who are open to these experiences are often in their second half of life,” she says. “After nurturing both families and careers, they seem ready to honor themselves through some form of creative process, often, after years of not making any time for themselves. And most interesting is that in our later years, we find ourselves, going back to the beginning. There is a sense of going full circle, a shape which is a universal symbol for wholeness.”
Chaffee notes that expressive arts bring about healing and awareness in our lives through a process that taps into a deep, often unexplored place within.
This is because the right-brain creative process is more heart- and soul-centered than it is head-centered, so it actually bypasses the cognitive mind’s critical judgments and allows people to more freely express themselves.
There are many benefits to creative expression. It is being more and more embraced by professional in the fields of medicine, psychology, and education. Expressive writing has even been proven to create positive changes in brain and immune function, improving both physical and mental health, and it can actually facilitate physical healing: By expressing negative thoughts and stress-producing emotions through art, expressive writing energetically releases those thoughts and emotions from the body, deactivating the stress response and activating a relaxation response.
“Making time for workshops and programs like these, in a small group setting, offers the additional benefit of being in a safe, non-judgmental, totally accepting atmosphere as stories and experiences are shared,” Chaffee says. “I am in awe of these women, complete strangers, just opening up and sharing their creations and their stories. The power of these experiences never ceases to amaze me.”
My next expressive art and writing workshop will be held at Stony Creek’s Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library for four consecutive Monday evenings, beginning Sept. 11. For more information and registration for the free program, visit www.wwml.org or call the library at 203-488-8702.
For more about Chaffee and her upcoming events, visit www.patriciaannchaffee.com.
Amy J. Barry is a Baby Boomer, who lives in Stony Creek with her husband and assorted pets. She writes reviews for Shore Publishing newspapers and is an expressive arts educator. Contact her at www.aimwrite-ct.net.